It’s April Fools Day on Sunday. I’m warning you now so you can be alert. Jokes from friends or family are bad enough - but it’s the major broadcasters who are worst.
In Britain, one of the most famous April Fool’s Day hoaxes was run by the BBC's highly respected television news and information program 'Panorama' in 1957. The world was not the global village it is now, and most people in Britain had only eaten tinned spaghetti. They had little idea how it was produced.
Somehow Commentator Richard Dimbleby delivered his lines faultlessly: ‘Many of you, I am sure, will have seen pictures of vast spaghetti plantations in the Po valley. For the Swiss, however, it tends to be more of a family affair.’
He went on to say that thanks to a mild winter and the elimination of the dreaded spaghetti weevil, Swiss farmers were enjoying a bumper spaghetti harvest. His words were accompanied with footage of spaghetti pickers pulling strands of pasta down from trees.
Many of the show’s eight million viewers were taken in.
Another highly respected news show, Australia's 'This Day Tonight', spoofed their viewers on April 1, 1975, telling them that the country would soon be converting to "metric time." Under this new system there would be 100 seconds to the minute and 100 minutes to the hour. Seconds would now be called 'millidays', minutes 'centidays', and hours 'decidays'.
The report concluded with an interview with Deputy Premier Des Corcoran and a view of the Adelaide town hall sporting a new 10-hour metric clock.
The ‘Beeb’ was at it again on April 1, 1976, this time when the hugely respected astronomer Patrick Moore announced on BBC Radio 2 that Pluto was about to pass behind Jupiter causing a very rare "gravitational alignment" which would reduce the Earth's gravity temporarily at precisely 9:47 am that day. He invited his audience to jump in the air and experience "a strange floating sensation".
After the appointed time the BBC received hundreds of phone calls from listeners saying they had indeed experienced an unbearable lightness of being. One woman even claimed that she and her eleven friends had levitated from their chairs and floated around the room.
In April 1, 1981, Britain’s Daily Mail newspaper got in on the fun, running a story about a Japanese athlete called Kimo Nakajimi, who had entered the London Marathon on March 29, but because of a a translation error, thought he had to run for 26 days, not 26 miles. Race organizer, Timothy Bryant, was quoted as saying that his Japanese was scratchy and that Kimo might have got confused because of "the very long races they have over there".
|Please note: None of these runners are Kimo Nakajimi|
Another British newspaper - the now defunct News of the World - joined in the fun nine years later, reporting that the Channel tunnel project had run into serious problems because surveyors had realized that the two halves being built simultaneously from Britain and France would miss one another by 14 feet.
They said French engineers were to blame for insisting on the metric system while the British used feet and inches. It was the same joke that had been used with tunnels in the Alps and Japan but it worked, possibly because the British hate the French so much and thought it was typical.
On April 1 2004, even Google were at it. They advertised for staff to man a Google moon base to harvest faint electromagnetic pulses in order to recreate the lost first appearance of Pink Floyd on BBC TV. Preference would be given to candidates "capable of surviving with limited access to such modern conveniences as soy low-fat lattes, The Sopranos and a steady supply of oxygen".
Plenty of people clicked the application button which triggered an automatic reply saying, sorry, try again on April Fool's Day 2104.
In 2007, an illusion designer posted some images on his website showing what he claimed to be the mummified remains of a fairy. "The 8in remains, complete with wings, skin, teeth and flowing red hair, have been examined by anthropologists and forensic experts who can confirm the body is genuine."
It said a man walking his dog had found the tiny corpse at Firestone Hill in Duffield, Derbyshire.
The designer later sold the fairy on eBay for £280.
When the hoax was revealed some people still refused to believe it. Some conspiracy theorists said the designer had been forced into his admission by government pressure.
Four years ago the BBC showed they had lost none of their capacity for practical jokes. It was announced that while filming in the Antarctic for a natural history series they had captured footage of Adélie penguins taking to the air.
Terry Jones (of Monty Python fame) explained that, instead of huddling together to tough out the Antarctic winter, some penguins had evolved so that they could fly thousands of miles across the Pacific to South America to spend winter basking in the tropical sun in the Amazon rainforests.
April 1st is Sunday. You have been warned.